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Check your lunchbox

Posted: October 6, 2013 - 12:06am

I never know what to put in my kids’ lunches. I want to give them good, nutritious choices with lots of variety — moderation in all things, you know — but somehow it always comes down to peanut butter and jelly. How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can one kid eat in a lifetime?

When I was a kid, I ate peanut butter and butter sandwiches every day for 12 years running. I dunno, for some reason we never put jelly on them — too messy or something? Like Charlie Brown’s bread and jelly sandwich folded over, there was always something missing on my sandwich — but I didn’t care. I liked peanut butter and butter sandwiches — still do as a matter of fact. Just not every day.

Thankfully we don’t have any peanut allergies in our family, since peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are on the lunch menu at least three times a week if I’m making lunches, which I don’t always do. This week I’ve been on PBJ duty, and I’ve discovered a few things.

First of all, there are solemn rules — some might say “commandments” — pertaining to the proper handling of peanut butter. Of paramount importance: Thou shalt not stick the peanut butter knife into the jelly. Only slightly less urgent: Thou shalt not stick the jelly knife into the peanut butter. Jelly and peanut butter are fine together in a sandwich, but the last thing I want to spread on my English muffin is jelly tinged with peanut butter residue.

Then there’s the peanut butter etiquette to be mindful of. It is polite to wipe the outside of the jar before returning it to the fridge. Ever reach into the refrigerator for a gallon of milk, only to come out with a smear of peanut butter on the back of your hand? Yuck! The same goes for syrup bottles, salad dressing and hot dog condiments, but that’s another story. Then, if you do wipe the jar, don’t forget to rinse off the washcloth afterwards. Otherwise you’ve just transferred the mess to another location instead of succeeding in cleaning it up. A small detail, but oh, so important!

Another essential point of etiquette: when the jar is almost empty, don’t put it back into the fridge. We have several remarkably efficient rubber spatulas in our kitchen, familiarly known as “scrapers” — you know, the things that you use to scrape with? Those last bits of peanut butter clinging to the sides of the jar won’t come out on their own. A butter knife won’t cut it — you have to go for the scraper. Just don’t resort to that lame trick of shoving the jar into the back of the fridge in the hopes that Mom won’t notice that there are seven jars of peanut butter in there already. Seriously, I cleaned out my fridge today and found not less than four jars of peanut butter on the shelves — but who’s counting? I needed to scrape out two jars just to make one sandwich. It wasn’t a question of the glass being half full or half empty — those jars were almost completely void, but not quite enough to commit them to the trash. I’ve seen the same lack of commitment regarding toothpaste tubes, cereal boxes and especially shampoo bottles, but again, that’s another story.

Now that we’ve mastered peanut butter etiquette, it’s time to consider the rest of the lunchbox. Fruit is always good, if we’re striving for nutrition. It’s important to remember that not all fruits are created equal for the purposes of the lunchbox. Soft fruits like plums and nectarines get squished, bananas turn brown next to the ice pack needed to keep the ham sandwich fresh on a rare non-PBJ day, and applesauce just gets everywhere. Default to an apple a day. You’ll keep the doctor away, and keep the apple growers in business at the same time.

The sandwich and the fruit are the star attractions of the lunchbox, while the rest is filler. The better the filler, the fuller the child. Chips, while of dubious nutritional value, are always welcome. Granola bars, cracker packs, goldfish crackers and cheese sticks all make their appearances. What else is there?

The measure of a successful lunchbox is whether or not your child comes home starving at the end of the day. But if you fail, fear not — the kid can always grab a snack. Peanut butter crackers are good . . .

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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